The Australian army is currently investigating a ring of officers and NCOs accused of distributing explicit photos and videos denigrating women. Calling themselves the “Jedi Council,” the men e-mailed among themselves thousands of degrading videos and photos of sexual encounters with women, military and civilian, without their knowledge. So far the army has identified three main offenders, including senior members of the defense force; 14 individuals “intimately linked” to the scandal; and more than 90 others who will be targeted for further investigation, in a number of geographic areas and areas of service. Lieutenant General David Morrison, Chief of Army, describes the text and images as “explicit, derogatory, demeaning, and repugnant to me.”
While Morrison says the scandal shouldn’t be seen as a reflection on the conduct of the men and women of the army as a whole, he clearly identifies it as a symptom of a systemic problem rather than just the actions of a few bad individuals and takes personal responsibility for it, saying, “I’m responsible for this. I’m the chief of the Australian army. The culture of the army is in my hands during my tenure, and I’m doing as much as I humanly can to improve it.”
On Wednesday, Morrison spoke the media, then delivered an unblinking video address directly to the members of the Australian army.
Earlier today, I addressed the media, and through them the Australian public, about ongoing investigations into a group of officers and NCOs whose conduct, if proven, has not only brought the Australian army into disrepute, but has let down every one of you and all of those whose past service has won the respect of our nation.
There are limits to how much I can tell you, because the investigations into this network by both the New South Wales Police and the ADF Investigative Service are ongoing. But evidence collected to date has identified a group of men within our ranks who have allegedly produced highly inappropriate material demeaning women and distributed it across the Internet and Defence’s e-mail networks. If this is true, then the actions of these members are in direct contravention to every value the Australian army stands for.
By now, I assume you know my attitude to this type of conduct. I have stated categorically many times that the army has to be an inclusive organization in which every soldier, man and woman, is able to reach their full potential and is encouraged to do so. Those who think that it is okay to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place in this army. Our service has been engaged in continuous operation since 1999, and in its longest war ever in Afghanistan. On all operations, female soldiers and officers have proven themselves worthy of the best traditions of the Australian army. They are vital to us maintaining our capability now and into the future.
If that does not suit you, then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behavior is acceptable, but I doubt it. The same goes for those who think that toughness is built on humiliating others.
Every one of us is responsible for the culture and reputation of our army and the environment in which we work. If you become aware of any individual degrading another, then show moral courage and take a stand against it. No one has ever explained to me how the exploitation or degradation of others enhances capability or honors the traditions of the Australian army. I will be ruthless in ridding the army of people who cannot live up to its values, and I need every one of you to support me in achieving this.
The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. That goes for all of us, but especially those who, by their rank, have a leadership role. If we are a great national institution, if we care about the legacy left to us by those who have served before us, if we care about the legacy we leave to those who, in turn, will protect and secure Australia, then it is up to us to make a difference. If you’re not up to it, find something else to do with your life. There is no place for you amongst this brand of brothers and sisters.